Love-Jihad now part of public policy in Assam

Assam CM released a set of posters which describes, amongst other measures, instructions for police officials to develop means of tackling the alleged bogey of 'Love-Jihad', read SabrangIndia's report on this state-sponsored surveillance
Image: PTI

As Assam grapples with the alarming rise in crimes against women, including an unsettling surge in dowry-related incidents and abductions to compel marriage, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has urged the police to establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) for investigating cases related to ‘love-jihad.’ Addressing the superintendents of police at a convention in Bongaigaon, Mr. Sarma attributed the root cause of ‘love-jihad’ to forceful religious conversions in the state.

In response to the disturbing statistics of crime against women in the state, the CM has stated that the Assam government is planning to introduce legislation to legally establish the marriageable age for all communities and put an end to multiple marriages.

However, amidst these efforts, a noteworthy aspect is the absence of ‘Love Jihad’ as a recognised criminal offence. Despite the rhetoric surrounding the term, the Modi government, in official communications and Parliament replies, has repeatedly denied having any specific definition or data on ‘love-jihad’ cases. In 2014, when the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh was asked about ‘love jihad’ cases, he had said, “What is love jihad? I need to understand its definition.”

Moreover, an RTI response to Ashoka University professor Aniket Aga, revealed that the National Commission for Women (NCW) does not maintain any specific data under the category of complaints related to ‘love-jihad.’ This absence of concrete data raises questions about the basis and implications of associating the term with criminal activities.

While the concerns of ‘love-jihad’ are being addressed at the state level and intended for becoming part of public policy, the prevailing crimes against women in Assam remain an urgent challenge. The state has sadly retained the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of crime against women in India for the 5th consecutive year, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures for 2021. The rise in dowry-related crimes, including a stark increase in dowry deaths, as well as instances of acid attacks, paint a distressing picture.

One concerning trend is the rise in dowry-related crimes. Cases of dowry deaths have seen an increase in recent years. In 2021, 198 women lost their lives due to dowry-related incidents, compared to 150 cases in 2020. Additionally, there were nine reported cases of acid attacks on women in the same year.

The data reveals that out of the total reported cases of crime against women in Assam last year, 12,950 were related to cruelty by the husband or his relatives under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The state also recorded 5,866 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women, with 3,362 of them being cases where the abductions were carried out to compel marriage.

The CM of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has also recently stated that while he wants peace between Hindus and Muslims, ‘love-jihad’ should not occur, and cited cultural differences between the communities as the reason for his stance against the alleged phenomenon. Never mind that such a statement violates basic tenets and principles established in Articles 14, 15, 19, 21 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.

Love-jihad is a supposed trope that Hindutva politicians have birthed, they claim that there is a conspiracy against Hindus hatched by Muslims to marry or lure Hindu women by coercion or persuasion. However, while love jihad is not regarded as an actual phenomenon, many hardliner extremists in India have misused to blame Muslim men and persecute people in interfaith marriages or those who convert to different faiths. In fact, it has often been the case where the bogey of love-jihad has been used to accuse people, in certain cases, the family of the people accused has denied outrightly that this is a false concoction, such as in the case of an alleged abduction of a minor in Uttarakhand. The alleged incident was used to stoke communal fires, however the uncle of the child denied any religious motivation or angle as was being claimed by right-wing forces.

Civil society has challenged these false claims by legal measures. For instance, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has filed a petition challenging anti-conversion laws which are often utilised to target cases of conversion and inter faith marriages in 9 states in India, which include Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka. In fact, the amended petition has included states which have legislation that make religious conversion by marriage illegal in the four states of Uttarakhand, UP, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh.

In the case of hard evidence to substantiate these claims and legislature, there is to date no substantial evidence to display on the alleged phenomenon of forced conversions by Muslim and Christian groups or individuals. The Modi government itself was asked thrice about forced conversions in parliament, however the government gave inconclusive replies or gave a denial in parliament in 2021 itself.


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